My breath hitched in my throat and I felt my knees wobble. I very nearly felt I was going to faint, standing there gaping at his lovely face. For a moment, I forgot about everything else: Victoria, school, Charlie and Jacob. I forgot about Edward. His smile lit up his whole face. Watching it gradually pull at his full lips triggered something in my stomach. It fluttered up into my chest and squeezed it's way into my throat and my own mouth imitated his. In the strangest way, I felt like there were butterflies exploding out of the hole in my chest. I felt like he could see this all happening and suddenly my face was on fire. His eyes followed the stain of blush as it reached out past my cheekbones and touched my nose.
"Bella." His voice was barely a whisper, as if my name had escaped his lips without his permission. I licked my own lips nervously as I nodded lightly in his direction. I couldn't speak. He continued. "I want you to keep your eyes on my face, all right? I don't want you to look anywhere else until I say so." Curious. I nodded again. Regardless of how inquisitive that request made me, it certainly wasn't hard to do as he'd asked.
His features were almost gentle, the hard muscles of his over six foot tall body disguised beneath skin that looked more tender than any vampire I had ever seen. There was an air of softness to him that I couldn't explain. His blond hair seemed to be almost brown at the roots. Almost. He kept it short, trimmed neatly against his skull. I studied his face carefully and his eyes never left mine. I could see his shoulders rolling, I knew he was doing something to Victoria. I didn't figure it was pleasant. I kept my eyes trained on him. I noted the light stubble that covered his jaw. He really was quite stunning. Within a moment his shoulders relaxed and he turned to face me completely. The breeze blew softly and I caught the far-away smell of something burning. It was rank.
The palms of his hands dragged down his jeans, wiping something off. It was then that I noticed, for the first time, that he was shirtless. I knew I shouldn't stare but I could not control my eyes as they dragged up and down his chest. The deep curving lines that outlined his muscles, the balls of his shoulders and the veins in his arms. I shivered gently, not sure if it was the cold or my view. He stepped towards me, the smile on his face had faded but his gaze remained gentle. Concerned. One hand outstretched, palm up, offering me to come closer. My feet moved without my direct permission and my right hand reached out to lay lightly into his palm.
His skin was cold, but for once it wasn't a harsh kind of cold. His right hand reached up to push the hood off my head, tucking some of my hair behind my ear as he did so. His voice was a whisper once again.
"You're all right? Did you see anything?"
For the first time since he'd shown up, I found my voice. I was suddenly impacted with everything at once. Victoria's attack, his unwanted rescue, his presence.
"James." I let out a weak cry and flung myself into his arms, wrapping my arms around his shoulders and sobbing. His actions were instantaneous as he slipped an arm around my back and snaked one beneath my knees and lifted me up. I just sobbed, uncontrollably and, if I were being honest, I didn't really care to stop. Even though I knew, quite literally, nothing about James, I knew he was safe. Despite Laurent's tricks to get us off his own trail by having us think James was the threat. Despite how he'd managed to sneak up to both Victoria and I without either of us having the slightest idea. Despite how he'd clearly been in these woods for weeks, not revealing himself to me once. Even though that should all have frightened me, it didn't. He had stepped in when my life was at risk, regardless of how little I cared, and he had protected me. I owed him at least the chance to be trusted.
Suddenly it occurred to me that chances were he had been watching over me all this time. Chances were, he'd been keeping secret not because he didn't want to show himself to me, but because to do so would be to reveal himself to Victoria. Thereby forfeiting any surprise. I clung to him impossibly tighter as he carried me back in the direction of Charlie's house. I heard, rather than felt, him stop and reach for something before picking up his pace again. He was careful not to startle me with sudden movements. I found myself appreciative of that. His brisk pace was the only thing that I knew for certain he wasn't careful with, probably because he knew I couldn't feel it. Having my face buried in his chest and blind to how quickly the woods were falling behind us made the trip easier. I panicked for a moment about him just waltzing into Charlie's yard with me in his arms until I realized it was Saturday. Charlie, as usual, was off fishing.
My sobs slowed gradually once he had seated himself upon a large rock, cradling me protectively. He'd stayed a few yards into the woods, keeping out of sight from the road or even the house. Rocking me gently and making soft humming noises in his throat to calm me, he didn't say a word. Eventually I released my death grip around his neck and wiped my face relatively clean with the sleeve of my hoodie. My breathing was leveling out when I finally looked up into his eyes again. I still couldn't believe how magnificent his eyes were.
"Are you feeling better now, Bella?" I flushed sheepishly, suddenly self-conscious of my ridiculous outburst. His thumb grazed my cheek, his cool touch soothing the hot blush.
"I - I think so." A hiccup in my breathing made me sound less in control than I really was. I sighed and nodded.
"I'm sure you would like an explanation to all of this."